The Short And Sweet History Of The Long Island Iced Tea

Remember your first Long Island Iced Tea? Of course you don't. It's hard to believe that a drink so synonymous with mind-numbing headaches has continually been ordered for almost a century. This legendary drink, while seemingly simplistic in nature, is actually drenched in more mystery than those who consume it are drenched in vomit.

Our story starts in the 1920s—when the jazz was hot, the racial intolerance was hotter, and the prohibition was raging. It was during this tumultuous time that a drink called the "Old Man Bishop" was concocted in a local community named Long Island in Kingsport, Tennessee by a man named—wait for it—Old Man Bishop. 

Legend has it that Bishop threw together a drink using rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila, and maple syrup. Not unlikely during a time where booze was scarce and drinks needed to pack a punch. The "Old Man Bishop" was then refined and further doled out by his son, Ransom Bishop. True? Maybe. Awesome names? Hell yes!

Fast-forward to the 1960s, where the love was free, the rock was hard, and Vietnam was slowly becoming more than a "must-visit vacation spot." This is the first time a recipe for the Long Island Iced Tea is mentioned in literature—Betty Crocker's New Picture Cook Book in 1961and again in the American Home All-Purpose Cookbook by Virginia T. Habeeb in 1966. 

A refined version of the original recipe can still be found on their website—a useful piece of information, but also a key player in the ensuing controversy surrounding this drink. 


Meet Robert "Rosebud" Butt—Bob Butt. The most controversial figure in Long Island Iced Tea history. If you don't believe me, go to his website. While he acknowledges that, "Possibly similar concoctions were created elsewhere, at another time," Butt firmly believes he invented the Long Island Iced Tea during a cocktail creating contest: 

"The world famous Long Island Iced Tea was first invented in 1972 by me, Robert Butt, while I was tending bar at the infamous Oak Beach Inn. I participated in a cocktail creating contest. Triple Sec had to be included, and the bottles started flying. My concoction was an immediate hit and quickly became the house drink at the Oak Beach Inn. By the mid-1970s, every bar on Long Island was serving up this innocent-looking cocktail, and by the 1980s it was known the world over."

Butt calls out the original "Old Man Bishop," saying it's flagrantly false, and never even mentions the Betty Crocker book.

So what's the verdict? As is the case with most high-caliber mysteries—O.J. Simpson for example—some stories don't have a clear ending. Who created the Long Island Iced Tea? Why didn't that black glove fit? The world will never know, but both will likely kill ya. Drink on, friends. Cheers.

Jeremy Glass is the Vice editor for Supercompressor and is still making O.J. Simpson jokes after all these years.